What to Do Before Your Equine Photo Shoot
So you’ve booked a photo session with your horse — how fun! I’m sure you’re excited to capture the connection you share, the beauty of your horse, and this time in your lives. But booking your session is only the first step — what do you need to do next? How on earth will you keep your grey horse clean or keep your moody mare from throwing one of her tantrums in the middle of your session?
As a professional horse photographer, I am here to mitigate that stress and ensure your shoot will be remembered as a calm, relaxed, and enjoyable experience for you and your horse!
Set Your Horse Up for Success
1. Take the Edge Off
Preparing your horse is the most important step. Animals do not understand what a photo shoot is and don’t know what in the world is going on.
Even if your horse the king or queen of adorable ear-forward selfies, a professional photo session is a whole different experience. The best pictures are of calm, relaxed, and happy horses on their best behavior.
One of the easiest ways to calm your horse’s mind is by lunging him before the shoot.
I know what you might be thinking: my lazy gelding or push button pony doesn’t need to be lunged! Under saddle, or hanging out in the barn, your horse may be the most relaxed creature on earth. He wouldn’t flinch if a firecracker went off right under his nose.
But asking your horse to stand still, move this way or that, and put his ears up for at least an hour straight challenges even the most docile of equines. Lunging helps horses release some energy, maintain a sense of routine, and truly relax before we ask them to do something unusual.
Your lunging session doesn’t need to be intense, as we don’t want either of you working up a sweat.
A few circles of trot in each direction and one circle of canter in each direction is usually enough. If you are worried that your horse might need more to get out their energy, feel free to lunge as long as needed, but remember that the goal is to help them relax…not become exhausted.
2. Avoid Scheduling Around Mealtimes
If your horse is anything like mine, meal time is a ritual, a religion, a sacred time! We don’t want to mess with your horse’s schedule, so be sure to feed him ahead of time if your photo shoot is over breakfast or dinner.
We don’t want any grumpy geldings or mean mares stomping around with grumbling tummies.
Steer clear of high-energy feeds or supplements before your shoot, if possible, as rich foods can make it harder for your horse to stand still.
The ideal? Schedule your photo shoot between meal times. Your horse — and your photographer — will thank you!
Want to improve your own photography skills? Check out our Horse Photography Guide.
3. Monitor the Mood
Remember those cheesy mood rings that used to change color (in theory) with your mood at the moment? Pretend you have an equine version on your finger before, during, and after your session.
It’s critical that you stay aware of your horse’s mood.
Horses can have good and bad days just like humans. If your horse seems spooky, herd bound, or just plain grumpy when you are bringing him in from the field or while grooming, let your photographer know. That way, she can better accommodate and adjust to your uncooperative steed.
The equine photographers I know, myself included, will only reschedule if absolutely necessary — if your horse is behaving dangerously. Minor behavioral challenges can be worked through with patience and creativity, and your photographer is there to make the process as easy and fun as possible.
4. Lather Up
Some of you might be lucky enough to have a horse who is kept in a stall, doesn’t rip off its blankets, or simply hates dirt. (Isn’t that the dream?) The majority of us, however, trudge out to the field and are faced with mud monsters who’ve gotten dirt in places that you didn’t even know dirt could go — and certainly doesn’t belong.
A thorough bath helps get all the dust, dandruff, and dirt out of the hair and allows your horse’s coat to really shine. A quality conditioner also does wonders for the coat and can save you a lot of brushing time.
Chief Rookie Aside // Here are a few essentials for getting your horse camera ready:
- Mane ‘n Tail Shower Set (includes shampoo, conditioner, and detangler)
- Mane ‘n Tail Ultimate Gloss Shampoo & Conditioner
- Cowboy Magic Detangler & Shine
- Cowboy Magic Shine In YELLOWOUT Whitening Shampoo
- Absorbine Hoof Polish (comes in black and clear)
I’m convinced that I own one of the dustiest horses in the world and one that also rubs his mane out in the same place. Every. Single. Year. If your horse is anything like mine, you’re probably dreading trying to get him clean — much less keep him clean until your photo shoot.
Bathe your horse a day or two before your session, then use a light sheet and neck slinky to help keep him clean.
You may also bathe your horse the same day as your photo shoot, just make sure you leave time to dry completely.
5. Bring Out the Show Sheen
Once your horse is bathed, I recommend grooming for at least an hour prior to your photo session — perhaps longer if you didn’t get a chance to bathe the day before.
Make sure you use clean brushes — dirty brushes won’t get your horse cleaner!
Follow your normal grooming routine, but with extra care. Take longer for each step and make sure to get all the dirt out. Make sure to pay attention to the spots that often get forgotten — legs, chest, face, and butt.
If possible, the tail and mane should be groomed and pulled to lie straight, but braiding is optional and up to you. After you’re finished grooming, use a finishing shine spray to really get your horse gleaming!
6. Pay Attention to the Details
For any white markings, I recommend using baby powder to make them pop.
Fetlocks can be trimmed (breed and preference dependent). As a final touch, wipe the entire coat down with a clean cloth to remove any last bits of dirt.
If your session is in the Spring or Summer, apply fly spray to keep the bugs away. Part of keeping your horse relaxed is getting rid of pestering insects!
7. Stay Flexible and Patient
Horses will be horses, and there is nothing you or I can do about that. Be prepared for some funny blooper photos and times during the session where your horse simply will NOT put his ears forward — no matter what your photographer does.
Take a deep breath and roll with whatever happens.
If you’ve picked the right photographer, one who knows and loves horses, she will work with you to get the most out of your session — no matter your horse’s attitude. We all know that equestrian sorts have more than their fair share of messiness and moody animals, and that’s okay.
Follow the tips in this article, and do your best to get your horse clean and relaxed. But don’t stress if your horse is in a bad mood or you that stubborn poop stain is kind of visible.
Instead, focus on how much you love your quirky equine partner and enjoy every sweet kiss on the nose. Magical moments are sure to follow!
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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